How Do You Jazz Up Your Tech and Engineering Courses? | Hubert Ham | 4 Min Read

By Hubert Ham, Director of Innovation & IT, The Alexander Dawson School (NV) and The Esports EDU Lab

As an administrator, when was the last time you considered the state of your technology and engineering classes? 
Take a look at your course catalog. Your school probably offers computer science, a coding elective, an engineering-type course, and some kind of catch-all digital literacy class. Have you ever wondered why every school has courses similar to yours? Have you considered how to differentiate your electives from everyone else? Have you taken time within the last five years to evaluate whether or not they are what’s best for student learning? Are they even relevant anymore? There is a chance that they may not be. However, the lingering question remains, why do these classes remain the mainstay of many schools?

They’re Easy and Popular

These programs are easy to launch with many curriculums already written, and there is a cohort of teachers out there who all teach them. As an organization, it’s easy to keep these classes churning over the years, even with turnover, since you can simply list a job opening, hire a competent teacher with previous experience, and keep the big machine that is your school running.

You may also argue that these are popular classes with students; your kids love them and enrollment is always high. However, if you really sit down with students and ask them why they pick these classes, they often imply it’s because they sound the most interesting out of all of the options, not because it is their passion.

Survey Says: It’s Time for a Change

At Alexander Dawson School in Las Vegas, NV, we asked students what class options they wish they had and what kinds of things they wanted to create. For some teachers or parents, the results would look like a nightmare list of things they don’t understand or in which they don’t find educational value, such as music, streaming, and (the dreaded) video games. When we saw these results, however, all we thought about is the opportunity. We took this student feedback as a challenge to create rigorous courses that appeal to the passions of our students.

Challenge #1: Video Games 

We dove headfirst into video games and when we dissected it, we saw several cross-curricular applications:

  • Writing and storytelling. There is extensive creative and narrative writing in video game storylines, as well as character design and development.
  • Art and creativity. The amount of traditional art concepts that live in the creation of characters, animation, and immersive worlds is staggering.
  • Coding and math. Coding actions in video games not only touch upon what we see as “coding”, but are steeped deeply in Boolean algebra.
  • Business. All video games go through significant marketing analysis, and we haven’t even touched on the financial and business sides of the industry.

Action: We created a course that addresses all of these points, wrapped in the lens of a video game.

Challenge #2: Esports

After working with some key constituents and partnering with Allied Esports and the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor, we learned that the esports industry is rooted in transferable skills:

  • AV production
  • Graphic design
  • Marketing
  • Business and financial operations
  • Shoutcasting (performing arts)
  • Directing/producing

Action: We found a gold mine of opportunity and created a rigorous course that teaches all of these elements through the lens of esports.

When we introduced these new courses for the first time, our students were thrilled to have a class rooted in their actual passions. We saw students who had challenging experiences in other areas become leaders in this new course. We saw students who were so interested in the work that they didn’t want to leave when the bell rang. We saw frustration dissolve into pure excitement when they overcame a challenge after many failed attempts.

In the end, we realized that all of the tech and engineering options we used to think were cutting edge and amazing were just the best of what was available at the time, not necessarily what was best for student learning. When we boiled it down to the core concepts and implementation of our old courses, we found they were very traditional and were just dressed up in a fancy tech tuxedo.

Truthfully, we didn’t go into this initiative we were going to create a video game class that was cross-curricular, and we most certainly didn’t know what was going to happen when we stepped off the cliff, but we’re glad we did. It pushed us as individuals to take on the challenge, pushed us ideologically, and pushed us as an educational organization to transform our courses for our students. In the end, listening and adjusting opened up our eyes to how education can look in the 21st century.

Hubert Ham

Hubert Ham, Director of Innovation & IT, The Alexander Dawson School (NV) and The Esports EDU Lab, has experience as a science teacher in grades 6-12, as a curriculum coordinator and as an instructional technologist. Hubert earned a master's degree in STEM education at the University of Texas, and he brings a mix of technology experience and teaching experience to lead Dawson's I.T. department and innovation initiatives.

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